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Atlantic Cod

On the Water - Commercial Fishers: Atlantic Cod Section Header

Two centuries before the arrival of the Pilgrims, explorers reported an abundance of enormous cod in the waters of present-day New England and Atlantic Canada. English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold was so impressed that he changed the name of Cape Saint James to Cape Cod in 1602.

Salt cod was an essential element in the web of early Atlantic commerce, but cod were not harvested on an industrial scale until the mid-1800s. As waves of immigrants reached America, the nation’s cities, industries, and population all grew. Commercial fisheries grew with them.


The Banks

Vast underwater banks stretch along the edge of the continental shelf from southern New England to Newfoundland, Canada. They provide the right combination of water temperature, currents, and food-rich shallows and ledges for Atlantic cod and other species to thrive. Two areas were especially important to commercial fishermen: George’s Bank, located about 100 miles east of Cape Cod, and the Grand Banks, 1,000 miles beyond.


Get Your Fish!

In 1876, Gloucester businesses were all about selling fish and outfitting fishermen.

From The Fisheries of Gloucester from 1623 to 1876 . . . (1876)

Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Libraries